Connie Norman
Connie Norman

Donna Polseno – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview


Donna Polseno will exhibit a selection of her contemporary yet classic ceramic vessels at Plinth Gallery this month. Her restrained forms and lush, layered glazes have earned her two national artist grants, and her work has shown internationally. Donna has successfully transformed the pot into a provocative sculpture.Donna’s show opens during our First Friday opening night for Denver Arts Week.

For more information about Donna Polseno please visit her website.

For more information on Plinth Gallery please their website.   

Please join Plinth Gallery in welcoming Donna for her first Denver appearance, opening Reception, November 5th, 5 – 10pm.

Donna thank you for sharing your thoughts, I know this interview came at an extremely busy time for you. 

Sorry for the small text.  I can’t seem to fix it. 

Tell us a little about yourself!

I have been a studio artist since graduating from RISD in 1974. My husband Richard Hensley ( who I met at the Kansas City Art Institute where we studied with Ken Ferguson) and I moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains with a ton of clay that I made at school before leaving, because he had an injury at the time from a car accident. We rented a house for 50 dollars a month and made 2 rooms into a studio. We now live in an farm house that we bought across the way from that house. We never had regular jobs until 6 years ago when we started teaching part time at Hollins Univ. We share one job. We have two grown sons who were 10 years apart so it was easy to take them to craft fairs when we were young and doing that sort of thing. I count myself lucky to have this wonderful family. I started out making Raku pottery and made a sort of precocious start to my career, looking back. But after winning grants , awards, and good publicity for about 5 years, I changed my work and got dropped by books, galleries and fans. It was quite an eye opener and I spent a lot of time depressed at first, but learned a sense of who I was and a resolve to not let other influences rather than my own resourcefulness decide my work. I eventually started making 2 bodies of work as my vessels became larger and more figurative. Since that time I have always made pottery and figurative sculpture. Some people know me only as the maker of one or the other. But both are equally important to me. They feed each other in some obvious and some not so obvious ways.



How did you become an artist?

My father was a painter and illustrator. Like me he had two bodies of work to help support a family.


How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

I was just lucky when I was young to do that. There wasn’t as much competition either. My work has changed so much over the years I can not really answer that clearly. I hope I just dug a deep well, as Ferguson used to say.


What is your inspiration for your pieces?

My pottery is inspired these days by nature. I live in a beautiful place and want to be outside every moment I am not in the studio. The plants and grasses and flowers I incorporate into my work are all around me. My father was a nut about nature and he was also a bird painter and amateur ornithologist as well as doing landscapes. I started painting and now sculpting birds recently as an homage to him in a way.


What keeps you motivated?

Life. It is so full of wonder. I love using me hands and interpreting the world around me.


Are you a full-time artist? How do you come up with your creations? Can you walk us through your creative process when dreaming up new pieces?

Yes I am a full time artist. I can only say I rarely lack ideas, but it does happen and I get cranky. My mentor Wayne Higby told me when I was a student that I was very observant visually of the world around me.


What was it that made you want to start creating? Did something specific trigger it?

When I was in art school I was pretty much a hippy at first but one day as a freshman, Victor Babu showed slides of pottery from ancient to contemporary and I flipped out and knew I had to make that. I knew nothing. So unlike most people it was not the feel of the clay. My father thought I had flipped. You are going to make pots and pans he said. I did love it from first touch also.


What or who inspires you?

I love using pottery. My home and kitchen are full of pots. It is just who we are and what we do.


How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

I take a lot of walks. I do Qigong, Bagua, and Yoga. I read. I study Italian. We have a small home in the mountains of Liguria in Italy. I get very recharged being part of another culture. We love to travel and have been lucky enough to travel work related to many places including China, Turkey, and Europe. One son and his wife live nearby, the other comes home for long stretches and Rick’s parents live next door so we have a loving family around and many long time friends. We are part of a group of other potters called 16 Hands and we are able to sell most of our work at home because of our group tour and these are our oldest and dearest friends as well. It all lends to a very busy but healthy feeling life.


You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it  for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

Just be resourceful. I have done so many kinds of work and approaches to making a living, I could write a book. But in the end it is best to say only to work hard, don’t get stuck on one idea or thing, try different methods and attitudes,be creative and positive. Hard times and mistakes are all lessons in their own way. It may not sound it, but I have had many hard times and have had to work like anyone to see those as part of the whole journey.


What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

Only to put one foot in front of the other and see everything, not just pottery. It will come with sincere hard work and practice through your hands and your heart and by taking everything in.


Thanks Donna!!!

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2 Responses to “Donna Polseno – Plinth Gallery Artist Interview”

  1. Judy Shreve Says:

    Great work & great interview. Very helpful to me to read about her process and her dedication to follow her path. Thanks!

  2. Connie Says:

    Hi Judy
    Donna’s works are absolutley beautiful. It’s been really nice to explore her work through this interview.